Scout feature image


topdogPet Portraits 3 Comments

This is Scout, one of my early portrait commissions, and it remains one of my all-time favorites. Let me tell you why.

I see a lot of amazing pet portraits online by many fantastic artists. Among these, there are those portraits that are absolutely stunning in the amount of fine detail painted by the artist. It's as if every hair is present and lovingly crafted.

I look at those portraits knowing I could never, ever paint that level of detail. Such portraits look almost photographic in their beauty.

There are three reasons I avoid painting that way:

  1. I can't. It's simply not in me to craft that amount of detail. Believe me, I've tried. About one quarter of the way into such a work, I start to think, "Why not make this hair a different color? I like complementary colors! Let's make these colors vibrate!", and before I know it, I've crafted some kind of crazy colored psychedelic monster from the early 70's.
  2. I get bored. Working on such tight detail takes me away from what I love about painting. As a teenager when I started painting in oils, I loved Monet and the Impressionists (great name for a band, btw). I loved the "feeling" of an object represented in paint. It wasn't the details, but the use of color, light and composition that thrilled me in the making of a painting.
  3. I want viewers to cognitively participate in my painting. This is a bit esoteric, but I think when we see an image that lacks certain details, our brain helps us fill in what is missing. To me, asking the viewers brain to work out what they are seeing can make a painting more interesting, if it's done properly. Creating this opportunity for viewer participation is a major goal in my art.

With "Scout", I concentrated on large areas of tones, with just enough detail to bring the center of interest into focus. I'd been shooting for this balance for some time, and this painting was one of my early successes.

Scout (digital, 8x10). Loosely rendered to exercise your brain!

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Steve in 2021
About the Author

Topdog is Steve Merryman, a retired graphic designer, illustrator, and unrepentant asshole. Steve can usually be found working on a portrait commission or some other artwork. Steve fills his days by painting, writing, shootin' guns, cuttin' trees, hiking with his dogs, and savoring a beer or two, all while searching for the perfect cheeseburger. He studiously avoids social media and is occasionally without pants.

Comments 3

    1. Post

      Well, I don’t usually include a specific setting in order to keep the focus on the subject, unless the customer specifically requests it. Most of the photos I get aren’t the best setting, so I try to ignore it and focus on anatomy, colors and lighting.

      For “Scout” I decided on a warm yellow light with a brighter aura around him in order to emphasize the memorial aspect, so I guess the setting in this case is Doggy Heaven.

      I do that a lot with memorials, creating some sort of glowing aspect, and I’m fond of warm yellow. I want to give people comfort by conveying an otherworldly aspect or setting, which implies their pet is in a warm and loving place.

      Does that make sense?

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